It’s 7:00 am on a recent weekday. A few cars dot the parking lot at Trottier Middle School. It will still be nearly an hour before most kids show up for the school day, but already the Trottier band room is coming to life.
Members of the school’s Big Band ensemble shuffle in to the large room strewn haphazardly with chairs and music stands, carrying their instruments in black cases. Some rub their eyes and yawn. A few take advantage of a spare moment to finish up homework for the day ahead. An open package of Pop Tarts lays propped on a music stand. The kids unpack their instruments and take their seats.
It’s a scene that has been playing out at Trottier three times a week since the beginning of the school year. There’s no denying the Trottier Big Band requires dedication (“I’m tired every morning,” one of the band members told me), but by all appearances the kids wouldn’t have it any other way.
“They’re so invested in what they’re doing. It’s remarkable to me,” Trottier band and orchestra teacher Jamie Clark said. “Most kids are not that fired up at 7:00 am.”
The band’s hard work has paid off this year as the accolades keep rolling in. Earlier this month the band earned an “Outstanding Performance” designation – the highest available – at the the annual University of New Hampshire Jazz Festival that attracts ensembles from throughout New England and New York. Last week they performed in front of music educators from across the state at the annual high school All-State Conference – a huge honor, particularly for a middle school.
Clark says it’s not any one performance he’s most proud of, it’s the kids themselves. “What makes it a joy is how wonderful they are as people,” he said. “There are moments when everything comes together, and you can’t believe they’re middle school students.”
As the rehearsal progresses, it’s clear the kids know what they’re doing. They’re having fun, but they’re focused. All eyes are on Clark — a charismatic leader who pumps his fist and bops to the beat, barking out changes, while cracking jokes in between songs to keep things light.
Most importantly, Clark says, the band members support each other. The typical adolescent behavior you might see walking the halls of a middle school doesn’t exist inside the band room.
After eighth grader Torie Shakespeare finishes a particularly beautiful trumpet solo, the group murmurs it’s approval and someone shouts out, “That’s the best you’ve ever played it!” They all seem buoyed by her performance.
“The kids are fearless because they know they have the support of the group,” Clark said later. “They really understand this is a team effort.”
All 30 or so members of the band auditioned to be there. Euphonium player Connor Henderson said the audition piece — “Groovin’ Hard” by Don Menza — was a challenge, but it’s grown to be one of his favorites.
Alto saxophonist Danielle Doherty said seventh and eight graders are expected to practice 80 minutes each week outside of Big Band rehearsal, and sixth graders are asked to put in 70 minutes.
Clark credits the eighth graders for setting an example for the younger kids. “There’s a certain level of expectation,” he said. “Okay is not acceptable to them.”
Clark also credits Neary School music teacher Steve Curtis for instilling a love of music in the kids early on. “A lot of districts teach kids that music is a discipline that can become a passion,” Clark said. “Steve teaches them that music is a passion that can become a discipline.”
The Big Band’s next performance will be at Trottier on April 7, where they’ll share the stage with the 7tn & 8th Grade Concert Band and the Stage Band. Later this spring they’ll compete in festivals sponsored by MICCA and MAJE, as well as perform with professional musician and Southborough native Dave Pietro. You can see their full performance schedule here.
Here are some photos of the band rehearsing last week. Click to enlarge.